A Comfortable Doctrine

 by Minna vander Pfaltz

I have a friend who fancies herself a Buddhist. She knows I am a Buddhist well-founded on history and writings, which modern American Buddhists shun, believing that reading is not practice. This, despite the writing of the sutras, which they hold in such awe that they see them, Mahayana, as a school of Buddhism. It is not. It is a mass, most untranslated, of esoteric and exegetical writings that all schools of Buddhism read and utilize in their practice. Another way of putting it is that Mahayana “is neither a Vinaya tradition or a doctrinal school. It is rather a vision or aspiration, and an understanding of what the final concern should be for all Buddhists (Paul Williams, Buddhist Thought, pp. 112-113) [There are only five schools of Buddhism: Sarvastivada or Vaibhasika; Sautrantika; Theraveda; and Pudgalavada. I am a Pudgalavadan.]

Anyway, this woman invited me to a meeting of her group of Buddhists to chant. That is what they do, chant. Or so they call it. I found it to be shouting out a memorized bit from the Lotus Sutra–and in none too cohesive, unanimous or rhythmic a manner. They do this three times for very short periods, perhaps 2-3 minutes. This, to me, is not chanting. Chanting is a means to an end, the end being meditation, the proper mind for meditation. They, in fact, do not meditate.

This group, a tight knit, small group, calls itself Nichiren Buddhist. It is, in fact, something else.

Nichiren Buddhism is not given much shrift by other Buddhists. To begin with, Nichiren and his followers were violently aggressive. This is not part of the canon of Buddhism. Worse, perhaps, is that Nichiren Buddhism is the only sect of Buddhism that is named after an individual. How egotistical. How egomanic. How egocentric. And how very un-Buddhist. One of the major tenets of Buddhism, as translated in the 19th century, is no-self. Well, no self, no life. No self means death. A better, more accurate translation would be no-ego, for it is the ego that brings on suffering via its illusion of what you are, the illusion of your self, often enough of a Dunning-Kruger sort: an unrealistic vision of your self. It is this illusion that creates suffering and must be bypassed. Ergo, Nichiren had not attained any clear understanding of Buddhism nor had he managed to rid himself of his ego. How can he lead a sect of Buddhism when he has not managed to gain mastery over his ego, his illusion of reality, his illusion of his self?

A second problem is that Nichiren Buddhism teaches only one sutra, the Lotus Sutra. As if there is no other sutra or interpretation of the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha. There are hundreds translated and thousands untranslated. To only see one exegetical teaching is not only philosophically vacuous, it is as limiting as people who burn books.

So, one is able to maintain that Nichiren Buddhism is not, in fact, Buddhism. It is illusion. This is beyond comprehension to Nichiren’s followers, for their practice makes them feel happy. This, happiness, is taught as the major effect of proper practice. This is not the happiness that any other Buddhist school teaches; this is the happiness of ego, as in “I feel happy and good when I do something for someone else.” (One of these people actually said this to me as if this were the end all and be all of Buddhist goodness and virtue.) Oh puke! That’s not giving or doing for anyone but yourself.

Buddhist happiness begins in mind and it surpasses the sensual. Nichiren’s followers like to feel good, feel good about themselves; this makes them happy. So, I ask you, what have they gained or learned? Happiness for Buddhists is the arising of the Awakened Ones; it is the gaining of wisdom; it is not doing evil. You can only attain happiness by following The Eightfold Path and being mindful of The Four Noble Truths.

When I sat in with this group, I asked about The Noble Eightfold Path. No one knew–and, indeed, blew it off. Far too difficult a thing to deal with. This is the fourth of the Four Noble Truths, which no one knew of. In fact, they told me that since Nichiren had studied for 20 years there is no need for them to study as he and his followers were teaching them his learning. There will never be enlightenment of any kind, here because imitation is not knowledge. Certainly not self-knowledge, which is one of the things that meditation gets you. But they don’t meditate.

However, there is a cultural element to “20 years” that Westerners completely miss. Amazingly, every Buddhist teacher in Japan studied in China for 20 years. I know of only one for whom this is historically accurate and documented (Kūkai). For everyone else, “20 years” means “for a long time” or “for the appropriate length of time” and can imply gaining insight and understanding. From this, there is nothing “20 years” about Nichiren. The fact that his followers are not interested in learning anything other than his egomanic dogma is a sign of. . .I’m not sure of the word—delusion?

Things get worse in the history these people are fed. In its partial truth, it is no more than propaganda. Somewhere around the beginning of WWII hostilities in Japan (1937 with the invasion of China), Nichiren Buddhism split and a new wing was established, Sōka Gakkai. Sōka Gakkai is not Buddhism. But Sōka Gakkai utilizes Buddhism, Nichiren Buddhism, to gain its ends–or, rather, to hide ever so transparently its true path. Sōka Gakkai is political. Sōka Gakkai is not well-liked by the people because of its political aspirations; they remember the State religion that led to the atrocities of WWII. As well they should. Any state religion is tyrannical and intolerant and prone to atrocities. It is the natural outcome of fascist organizations and thinking, given that any organization that maintains “my way is the only way” is fascist. This is, indeed, what Fascism teaches: my way is the only way, my way is the right way, my way is the best way. That means, everything else is wrong and what is wrong and heretical must be gotten rid of.

Even more telling is that the leader of Sōka Gakkai is called its President. He is, in fact, a businessman, as his predecessors were. A very rich businessman who flies around the world in his private jet. He knows nothing of Buddhism. He has had no training in Buddhism. Ergo, Sōka Gakkai is fake Buddhism.

When this is pointed out to followers, they deny it. They say it isn’t true. They say it doesn’t matter. They say they are happy. What could be more better? Well, even in the degradation of the West, even in the decadence of the West, it is known that happiness is fleeting; that happiness is not an end to be sought for it begets only unhappiness (suffering). As in, what if you don’t gain happiness no matter what you do? As in, once you’ve got it what’s left for you? This happiness is illusion. It is ego blowing its own horn. How long can you blow? You can never stop or you are no longer happy.

And, so, I remain appalled by these people and wish I could get my friend away from this crowd. She—and they—have no idea of the propaganda because they have bought it lock, stock and barrel. They have study sessions and inspirational speakers (not; they’re actually pretty boring, simply repeating, repeating, repeating the happiness mantra) just like cells or cults so that they know what is right and that what is right is feeling good about themselves, feeling happy. As if to say, no matter what happens as long as I am happy everything’s cool. This makes me shiver.

The proverbial garden path.

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The Trouble with Lawrence Kansas

When the good idea of a free state, a place for nigs to become humans, Lawrence put itself up as that place, even after the oft-remembered Quantrill Raid and Burning. But this is no more. One of the notable things about now-adays Lawrence, KS, is its modern racism, which includes Injuns and wetbacks or, more appropriately, spics, as well as blacks. I say “more appropriately,” because the illegal immigrants that make sure we get the wonderful things that keep the American Dream alive cannot pronounce a long e, as in “speak.” There are some Chinese, too, but as they feed us, they are okay. As it were.

But this is not the most notable element of disgust these days. No. The more notable thing about Lawrence, KS, capital of arrogance and Dunning-Kruger, has to do with the medical profession. To wit:- the medical profession in Lawrence, KS has lost all sense of itself as a service to Mankind and any ethical imperative that might obtain from the Hippocratic Oath, which has become more akin to the Hypcritic Oath. Here as elsewhere.

The first abrogation of ethics and dedication comes via the Business Model of Medicine, which is not about medicine at all but about money. And it cost me my doctor of 30 years who suddenly did not have time to hear my stories. Now, this may sound rather petty but my stories are context and history. I am what is known as a good historian when it comes to diseases and disorders. In order to make an appropriate diagnosis context is important. The more so as, in my case, reaction to medications is so variant to the PR of Big PHRMA. And yet, with the wholesale adoption of the Business Model of Medicine by the entire practice, this physician who was once held to be perhaps the best in Lawrence and most certainly the best diagnostician suddenly threw in the towel on her Calling, as she once told me doctoring was for her; she threw that, her soul, into the waste heap.

Apparently what is important to her and all other doctors who have adopted the Business Model of Medicine is getting home on time, at a reasonable hour. Yet with the mandated 15 minutes per patient, it has not dawned on her and the others that they are working more than they did before. Yes. We complained about the long wait in the office before being seen; but we could not ever complain about the care we got. Personal.

Now, with the Business Model of Mecicine it’s screw the personal, screw the patient: what is important for the Business Model of Medicine is profit; that is to say, money, money, money because money makes the world go round, it makes the world go round, that clinking clanking sound.

She does not like the Business Model of Medicine but she is whole-heartedly bound by it. And, so, I do not see her any more.

This has been a great loss to me. As it has been to others who do not like and will not tolerate so many of Lawrence’s physicians, now almost totally owned, more or less, by the private local hospital, Lawrence Memorial Hospital, a monopoly that is rated by a branding business as one of the nation’s top 100 hospitals. If it is, god help the hospitals of the country. A branding business like Truven charges a fee for a “brand,” a catchy phrase, a one-liner that is guaranteed to generate income. Easy in Lawrence as the hospital is a monopoly. What choice do we have? Especially the poor, who are not wanted in Brownbackistan.

Let me explain. The Kansas governor is Sam Dale Brownback, a man who is bought and paid for and is, thus, very heavily invested in privatization. So much so that he has stolen from the public education budget to finance his own agenda, that is, the investiture of the much worse education produced by the privatization of schooling. He also has privatized, to great State debt, the Medicaid program. This allows doctors to “opt out” of one or the other of the three private companies that require money to run, money on top of what the feds pay; that is, the State of Kansas must pay the company to operate its Medicaid coverage program. Thus, a great debt incurred by the State.

The fact that practices and doctors get to “opt out” of one or the other of the three companies, means not only that ethical imperatives have been thrown to the wolves often for the most petty of reasons, but also means that some people are left without medical coverage. Poor people. Poor people, to Brownback, aren’t deserving. They have not done any pulling of themselves up by the bootstraps. A great American social myth, mind you, but a good cliché to hide behind for the inhuman. For Brownback, as with the Tea Partiers and the Libertarians, the poor should be damned to nonexistence because “if you can’t afford to pay, you deserve to die.” This is highly ironic, for these kinds of American Patriots scream and yell about the horrors of socialism (which they do not understand at all) and communism (which is all about an ages old prejudice) yet their stance is Marxist, though Marx is much more human about being inhuman; to wit:- if you do not work, you do not deserve to eat.

This is the question I have for the Business Model of Medicine: how can you appropriately diagnose a person’s disorder or disease in 15 minutes when you don’t have time for the personal or the contextual? This is, of course, a rhetorical question, for you can’t. People react differently to medication, Big PHRMA be damned, and the prescribing of medicine solely because Big PHRMA has said whatever is good is a prescription for trouble. But, really, who cares? For the trouble will take the poor fucker or the old fucker to the ER at the local monopolistic hospital which will wreak an amazing profit.

For me, who has had such trouble with medication side-effects, this is courting death. Indeed, I came close via an overdose of Lithium, though this is more to do with the Business Model of Medicine’s directive that all records of 10 yrs or older be set aside. Why did I suffer so? The necessary information that would have bypassed my toxic reaction and its attendant encephalopathy was 15 years old.

How many unavoidable problems and deaths could be avoided by having access to these records?

So it goes.

But this is not all. Concièrge Medicine has begun to seep, like a fast leaking faucet, into Lawrence medicine. Concièrge Medicine has no ethical base at all. It is even more money oriented that the Business Model of Medicine. Concièrge Medicine accepts no insurance, not even private. You pay a certain amount a month for coverage and access to the doctor. There are, of course, different programs all the way up to the, shall we say, Cadillac Program where you pay a high price for treatment. Concièrge Medicine is touted as medicine for all. However, with the least amount of coverage being around $40/mo, this touting is an outright lie. There are many people, all of them poor, who cannot afford such a fee. Oh, well, you know, they deserve to die, they can’t afford to pay.

There is a horrible capitalist mentality to this. Not that capitalism itself is a bad thing. But the mentality of money before anything else and develop, develop, develop is, somehow perversely associated with the American Dream, what led to The Dust Bowl and the present “drought” in California. Note: The Dust Bowl was called, for most of its existence, a drought. Interestingly, most of the Okies who made it to California were, in fact, Kansans.

These people, the doctors of Concièrge Medicine need to begin reading and paying attention to history, for not only are they willing disease and death on people for the Almighty Dollar, they are driving the end of the line, Crazed Caseys. The lies necessary to gain access to the American Dream eventually fall apart, as they did for Gatsby. And, as with every tragedy, the innocent are brought down as well. 

As Twain quipped, those who don’t read are more dangerous than those who can’t read.

So, in Lawrence, KS, the capital of the Free State, I am looking for a new doctor. Which, according to my immunologist, is what half of Lawrence is doing. I already ditched my long time doctor and I have ditched the doctor who practices by norms and averages and the graphs in her textbooks and whatever the hell Big PHRMA tells her and am now getting rid of one of the best doctors in Lawrence due to the petty refusal of one of the three private Medicaid companies, which could not happen under the Federal system. Am I having an easy time? No. Not at all.

No. I am not going to die. I will simply continue to cost the City and the State tons of money as it costs more than $800 just to pass through the doors of the private monopoly of Lawrence Memorial Hospital staffed by doctors who are more interested in saving their asses than in treating the admitted. . .and then come charges for the doctor, the drugs the tests and. . .whatever.

This, the medical deterioration of medicine into the pit of money hell, is the major problem besetting Lawrence, KS.

Changing over

Those familiar with labelleotero are now here. Talesofthefloatingworld comes about from problems that would not fix.This is the fix for the lovely, incomparable and very numinous Minna vander Pfaltz, whom Jimsecor might call a Familiar. I occasionally let him mount essays and whatnot here and he tells me there will soon be an update on the ludicrous happenings in Lawrence, a town that fits Dunning-Kruger to a T. Truly an oddity considering KS’s governor, Sam Dale Brownback, a nobody til he married publishing money, played toady to Bush II and got hysterical over a mole on his back and apparently saw God. Not quite like seeing the Fairy King over a mushroom hood but certainly of the same fantastical nature. Jimsecor is extremely cynical and disgusted over Brownback’s harrowing encounter with death via mole, as he himself bled out in 1999. He does not talk about this much, only to say he got no enlightenment, which may be a kind of enlightenment nonetheless. I have followed Jimsecor since we first met across the country and into Europe and Russia, and thence to the Far East: Japan, China, Korea, Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong (which many Americans believe is China; it is not, though China’s governors want it to be for good capitalist reasons).

Along with this new blog site comes a new apt, albeit not really ours yet. Nevertheless, the promise is there and the money is rolling in, kind of like Sisyphus pushing his stone up the hill. It is on the first floor, given there is a ground floor, for which we are not totally thrilled as our wheelchaired friends cannot visit and I fret over his falling down the stairs (Jimsecor is a fall risk, managing 2-3 episodes/yr). But it is larger than the present dormitory type room and much more open and bright. Jimsecor will be able to set his office aside, in the second bedroom; I prefer to write on the kitchen table so I can yell at the cat for strewing my papers hither and yon as he scrambles over the polished oak surface in chase of. . .whatever it is cats see. We will have to line the balcony with something to keep the little g-kids from falling off.

Speaking of g-kids. . .Aurora, now 2, was born on Jimsecor’s birthday. As he has no family, she and her brothers and sisters have been a boon to him. Me, too, when he lets me get in the mix. There is a picture of her taking a bath. She cannot say her name, managing only “Rora.” Very headstrong, full of “No” and, though indulged, not spoiled by her grandpa. But we do not get to see them often enough. Isn’t that the way it is?

Jimsecor will be undergoing TMS, transcranial magnetic stimulation, in an attempt to gain some kind of control over his treatment resistant depression. Without such control, he is tossed about like a rat in a cage as his moods swing into and about his person. Before returning to the States in 2010, from China via a stop in Liverpool, his Bipolar I was not so disruptive. Since returning, he has spent half the time not writing, the publications coming right at the beginning of the 2 1/2 yr dry period. This is the last resort. Please, gods and goddesses, let it be successful! I will not abandon him as family, friends and lovers have; but living with an out of control Bipolar I is not rosy. I think, though, I handle it better than Zelda did F. Scott’s; however, Jimsecor’s not a raging alcoholic. If there is no resolution, we will be going to live in a “populated area,” either here in KS or in China, where he does have family: adopted girls. And students he is still in contact with.

“Populated area”: a ghost town has no people in it. A populated area has some. Very some. Matfield Green, KS has 49, a cowboy bar and a grocery, along with an artist’s retreat and a couple ranches on the National Historical Register. Linghu, Zhejiang, China has a main road of 1/2 mile and is the hometown of one of his students; her parents own THE grocery store. There is an old town along the polluted canal and out a ways from the “town” centre is Gu Jia Michelle’s grandparents’ house, where she was raised. Jimsecor would like to have indoor plumbing put in and move in; Gu Jia is somewhat resistant to the idea, believing he won’t be able to manage on his own with his (and my) slim Chinese ability. I wonder because Linghu is 45 minutes by furious bus over both paved and unpaved road from Huzhou, the nearest big town. I think the nearest town period. We both would like to move to Whorehouse Meadows, OR but it is not a town, just a beautiful spot of greenery in an otherwise arid area where, once, whores were housed in tents to keep the RR workers content.

And that’s about where we are at the moment, with me taking care of the mundanities of life and the editing and other business concerns, all of which frustrate the hell out of Jimsecor. I don’t mind. Jimsecor is my populated area.

The dishes await.